Intel is advising its customers to increase the temperature in their data centres, claiming that companies can save four percent in energy costs for every 1C they turn up the heat.
Most data centres in Europe currently run at a temperature of between 19 and 21 degrees centigrade, in order to avoid creating hot spots that might cause equipment to malfunction. The cooling equipment required to maintain that temperature costs around $27 billion a year to run and consumes 1.5 percent of total world power, according to Intel.
Many companies worldwide are now looking at raising the temperature of their data centres up to 27C (80.6F), in a move that could help them save costs and reduce their carbon footprint. Facebook, for example, has saved $229,000 a year in energy bills by reprogramming its cooling to run at 81F, while Microsoft has saved $250,000 a year by increasing the temperature by just 2-4C.
"If we can raise the temperature in the data centre we don't have to use so much cooling, so we don't have to build so many power stations," said Richard George, director of cloud services at Intel, in an interview with Techworld. "If we do that we may be saving $2.4 billion dollars in power per annum. That's a huge saving if we look at it across the world."
However, Mark Peters, an analyst at Massachusetts-based Enterprise Strategy Group, told Bloomberg that moving to higher operating temperatures would require a commitment from other component suppliers, not just Intel.
"Perhaps the likes of Intel have designed their chips to run at hotter temperatures without an increased risk of failure, but historical components haven't done so yet," Peters said.
George said that raising the temperature is just part of the story when it comes to creating an energy-efficient data centre. He cited Yahoo's Computing Coop in Lockport, New York, which has an estimated power usage effectiveness (PUE) rating of 1.1, as a sign of things to come. The data centre operates with no chillers, and will require water for only a handful of days each year.
"We need to look at things like the power consumption, not just of the CPU itself, but of all the other components that we're putting into the data centre; and as we make those more efficient we're going to take a lot of heat and a lot of power consumption out of the data centre," he said.
Intel itself is doing a lot of work on efficient buildings, and currently has one of the most efficient buildings in the world in Israel. The company uses the excess heat from the data centre to heat the showers, and condensation from the air conditioning units is used to water the plants.
Last year, Intel also announced it was adding new sensors to its server chips to help companies improve the efficiency of data centre cooling systems, with a view to cutting operating costs and prolonging the life of equipment.
Intel said it would make the data available for use by tools that model airflow and cooling in data centres, providing a more accurate way to uncover hot spots and cold spots, and to run simulations that show where to put new IT equipment for the greatest cooling efficiency.